Starting her own business has given single mum Claire the flexibility to fit around her family, and a real sense of achievement. But it hasn’t all been plain sailing, as she told us recently.
I was widowed at 34, when my children were 10, 11 and 14. It was a very difficult time – I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. At the time I’d just started a business which I had to give up. I’d lost a lot of money and my mental health was in tatters.
‘I remember sometimes I couldn’t even pull it together to go to the shop. I’d have to just keep repeating ‘bread and milk, bread and milk’ to myself.’
I was at home for about six months, just recovering. Then my mother-in-law, who worked at a vet, told me that people who didn’t drive often struggled to get their animals to appointments. She suggested I could help, and I thought I might as well. So I got a cheap Nokia phone and a top-up card, somebody I knew printed me some leaflets and I started my business for about £100.
I was still in a deep dark hole. I think I didn’t even want to be alive. I didn’t take the business seriously at first, people would just call and tell me where they needed to go, and I’d take them – it was just a reason to get out of bed in the morning. I was going out to work, putting on this cheerful persona, and people didn’t know how bad my mental health was.
But I got busier and busier. And customers were telling me it was a godsend, and giving me such good feedback, and that’s what kept me going. Originally the business was just ‘Pets2Vets’, but soon customers were asking if I could take them to the groomers, or to visit a friend as well. And I realized, from talking to customers, that there was a need for this kind of service in other places too. That’s when we changed the name to ‘Pets2Places’ and came up with the idea to franchise the service.
It’s so much more than just a pet taxi, we specialise in helping elderly and less able people. I don’t just honk the horn and wait outside, I’ll help the customer get ready, remind them to get their keys, give them a helping hand to the car if they’re not so steady on their feet. And I’ve become an expert on pet transport, using proper top-of-the-range crash-tested equipment.
‘The plus side of working for myself has been that you can set your own hours. I could be there for the children, if they needed me for parents’ evenings or anything I just scheduled work around it. It’s always been so important to me to be there for them. They’ve only got one parent left.’
It’s been good for the kids to see that I’m out there working every day. They’re grown up now, and they have a good work ethic, even though their careers haven’t been easy so far. My daughter had to retake a year of her course, but as she said ‘I’ve got the rest of my life, one year isn’t going to make much difference’. I think that starting my career at an older age has shown them it doesn’t matter if you’re delayed getting started. They know not to give up, because hard work will get you there in the end.
Doing the work of two parents
People have no idea how hard it is being a single parent. You do the washing, the cooking, the cleaning, take the kids where they need to go – and if you’re doing a full time job as well, you’re doing the work of two people.
‘I don’t like the way that single parents are labelled so negatively in the media – why would you look down on someone who’s doing the work of two people?!’
I’m proud of the business, and everything I’ve achieved, despite having no qualifications, and all the labels society puts on me as a single mum. And I’m proud of having dug myself out of that deep dark hole. I’ve become the person I needed.
‘My advice to anyone in a similar place is just keep going. Keep showing up. Even if all you can manage to do that day is just getting out of bed, you’ve still achieved something. Every step forwards counts – and your best is good enough.’
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